Bumming You Out

My thoughts are with those dealing with Katrina. I used to live in Hinds County, Mississippi, and I know what it’s like to wait out a storm, wondering at what point you have to evacuate.

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When I get to work in the morning, there’s usually the latest draft of that week’s script on the floor just outside my office. Balancing my gym bag, my purse, my computer bag and a cup of coffee, I bend over to pick it up. Only today I noticed that when I stood back up, script in hand, I involuntarily groaned. Because of my knees. I don’t like this recent development in my life. I’m going to pretend it’s because I’ve been very good at going to the gym in the mornings, and not because it’s another fun-fact of turning thirty. I got carded last night. And three times last week. Clearly I am no longer talking to you, just reassuring myself. And that’s… okay.

I have a problem with self-censorship. I’m okay around a group of people who don’t know me very well, but once I’m with a group of friends, my mouth just won’t stop. It’s a bit of a problem. Yesterday at work someone said they had a pet named Barney.

“Me too!” I immediately said. I probably interrupted. I don’t know why I always feel the need to bond. Actually, “Me too!” isn’t that bad. It’s that I couldn’t stop talking, and I followed it up with “That was our code-word for when my parents couldn’t pick me up from school. When someone else was picking me up, they had to say ‘Barney,’ or we wouldn’t get in the car.”

Then an awkward moment of silence before someone said, “You had strangers pick you up from school?”

Then someone else: “You had to get picked up from school?”

And so I said, “The bus wouldn’t go to the hotel we lived in.”

“You lived in a hotel?”

“Sometimes.”

“Your childhood makes me sad.”

See? Too much.

It happened again over the weekend. Dan, stee and I were walking back from breakfast on Sunday morning. We passed a Mayflower truck.

“Oh, Mayflower. That is the truck of my childhood. Parked outside. Full of our stuff.”

“Aw.”

“One ran over my Big Wheel once.”

stee and Dan waited a respectable amount of time before they started teasing me.

“Let me guess: they were supposed to buy you another one, promised they would at the next place, and then they didn’t.”

“…Something like that.”

And then every sentence after that ended with, “Either that, or I’m going to run over Pam’s Big Wheel.”

Ha, ha.

I should have kept my mouth shut. There’s no need to kill the mood with another sad story from when Pam was growing up and moving all the time.

But when I mentioned Barney yesterday, a whole flood of memories came back. And it is a sad story. To make it short, Barney was our Basset Hound. When we had to move from Michigan to Virginia, we couldn’t take Barney with us. Apparently he actually went to a real farm, where he could run with other dogs. I have asked my parents repeatedly over the years. This story they’re sticking to. Many other pets didn’t go to farms. They’ve been honest about the ones who went to the pound. But Barney, he got adopted by a family with a farm. Please don’t try to talk me out of this one. Barney was a weird dog, and I don’t think he would have survived the pound.

Anyway, the sad story is that when the people came to pick up Barney, I was downstairs in the basement, playing with a friend. My sister came downstairs, crying. “Barney’s gone,” she said. For some reason, nobody called me to say goodbye to the dog.

So I’m driving home last night, thinking about Barney, and realize how that probably had a profound effect on me. Not that you need to know that, but if there’s a place where I’m supposed to be allowed to say all the crap that my brain comes up with, it’s here. We had other dogs after Barney, but I never got attached to them, because I knew they’d end up temporary. And they were. Except for one. Sage is still around, because she’s the smartest dog who ever lived. You had to be basically a human to survive the Ribon household. You had to understand English and sympathize with everyone and know how to be a dog who isn’t really a dog. Sage is like that. And because of that, she’s survived the impossible for a dog in our house — she moved from Texas to Connecticut, and she’s still my mother’s dog, after more than twelve years. Go, Sage.

Okay, so that’s all a bummer. Let me think of something a little more upbeat.

Oh, “Bummer.” I thought of something. My new favorite way for someone to give a note is to say, “This joke bums me out.” I first heard it from my last head writer, who is a very funny man who has a lot of my respect. He was reading over a script I turned in, mumbling to himself, nodding in the right places. And then he circled something on the script and grimaced.

“This joke,” he said, “bums me out.”

I’d never heard someone say this before. I was like, “I could write a smiley face at the end of it. Would that cheer you up? Should the joke send you flowers?”

“Yeah, it’s just… I like this, and then I like this, and then I get to this joke and I’m like…”

“Bummed out?”

“Yeah.”

I thought it was just his way of telling me to go back to rewriting. But then the other day I was going over a script with a co-worker. I circled a joke on his script.

“Yeah,” he said. “That joke bums me out.”

And the thing is? That joke bummed me out, too. Everything was going along at a nice pace, and the jokes were exactly how you wanted them to be. Fast and funny and smart. And then here comes this joke, which was a combination of disappointing and a kind of a crunching halt. It was totally a bummer. I got it. “This joke bums me out” a great way to say, “It’s not that it’s a bad joke, I just know we’re capable of more.”

The bummer joke got a rewrite, and I learned a new way to say something without offending anyone.

That’s not so much an upbeat story to follow the old one, as it is a completely unrelated topic I can use to create an entry title that somehow ties all of this together. Brilliant!